With a little less than two weeks to go on Gov. Brian Kemp’s mandate that schools stay closed until March 31 to stave off the spread of the coronavirus, metro Atlanta school districts are putting plans in place to go into next month.
Parents are eager to know if there’s an end in sight. Spring Break is quickly approaching and whether families stay sheltered-in-place or venture out of town, parents want to know when and if children will return to in-school classes.
DeKalb parent Tasheka Wilkins can’t understand why the school district is being stingy with information.
“They sent out an email last Thursday saying the kids will be doing school from home, but didn’t say how long!”
The headline of the memo called it a COVID-19 update.
Her daughter, Tori, is a freshman at DeKalb Early College Academy.
“She’s a good student so I’m sure she’ll do fine,” said Wilkin. “She has to, I’m not a teacher. “
But Wilkins added the uncertainty is the most frustrating.
“It’s hard to plan a vacation or anything else when you don’t know what’s going on.”
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After a report from The Atlanta Journal Constitution was published Friday morning, DeKalb issued this letter to parents from Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson:
"Thank you for your patience as we navigate these first-time experiences and this period of uncertainty for all Georgia school districts. Know that we do not take the opportunity and the responsibility to serve our families lightly. As we continue to collaborate with our neighboring school districts, local, state and national health partners, the Governor’s Office, and the Georgia Department of Education, we want to provide updates for you," the letter read.
"We will continue to collaborate with and follow the guidance of the Department of Public Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the DeKalb County Board of Health to inform our decision making in regards to the re-opening of school. The school district will remain closed until further notice. We anticipate that the District will continue digital learning and teleworking through at least March 31 given the announcement from Gov. Kemp on March 16 and potentially through Spring Break (April 6-10). A final decision for a re-opening date has not been determined and will be fully communicated once decided."
Earlier this week, Gwinnett, Forsyth, Cherokee, Barrow and Rockdale schools announced they may come back to brick-and-mortar learning after Spring Break. With daily developments associated with the disease, nobody can say with certainty when the pandemic will be contained.
At Thursday's Board of Education meeting, board members discussed setting target dates to assess whether students should return to school. No firm decision was made, but the district has a pandemic committee that is keeping the board apprised of changes.
Gwinnett will observe Spring Break March 30 - April 3.
Forsyth, Cherokee, Barrow and Rockdale have their Spring Break scheduled for a week later. They, too, will wait until after the holiday to consider having children report back to school.
RCPS is tentatively slated to resume normal school operations on April 13, said Rockdale Superintendent Terry Oates through an email to parents.
“Please know that I do not make such decisions lightly; however, our staff’s, students’, and community’s safety and well-being are our top priorities during this unprecedented public health crisis,” he said. “I would remind you that COVID-19 continues to infiltrate our state disproportionately in metropolitan Atlanta.”
Several of the ten largest school systems in the state have been vague about the decision , forcing parents to wait and see.
Fulton County Schools had been poised to announce at the Thursday school board meeting that it will extend the closure until after Spring Break [April 6 -10] and reopen on April 13. Superintendent Mike Looney has publicly stated it’s “likely“ that the district will be closed through Spring Break, opening April 13.
“We haven’t taken that formal step yet,” said spokesman Brian Noyes.
Cobb County school official would only say school is being conducted remotely “until further notice.” Clayton County had a similar message.
Douglas County similarly hasn’t given a firm date.
“We know it will go at least until March 31,” said Douglas spokeswoman Portia Lake. “We have not announced a firm date, but we wanted parents to be prepared for closures that could extend at least through March 31.”
Although Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has been on local radio and TV talking about the effect the virus has had on learning, she hasn’t given any information on how long the distance learning will last.
“We anticipate the district will be closed for two weeks and potentially beyond Spring Break,” Carstarphen told several media outlets last week.
But there has been no updated information sent to parents or added to the website past the March 31 mandate.
Likewise, Henry County and Paulding County have indicated that the shuttering of schools may last beyond March 31, but haven’t given any new information since March 12.
“Updates on the district returning to on-site learning and operations will be shared when decisions are made,” according to a post on the Henry County schools website.
In the meantime, Wilkins has mentally prepared herself for school remaining online until the end of the semester.
“You know what they say, pray for the best, prepare for the worst.”